February 5 brings the world premiere of Michael Abels’ first ballet Falling Sky, which features choreography by international dancer and choreographer Patrick de Bana. Commissioned by Butler University (Indianapolis, Indiana), the four-movement, 20-minute work is scored for concert band and will be performed by the Butler Ballet. Col. Michael Colburn conducts six spotlighted performances as of Butler’s MidWinter Dances festival.
“Falling Sky came about,” Abels shares, “because I was contacted by Col. Colburn (Butler’s Director of Bands) about the possibility of writing a piece for concert band with a social justice theme. As I thought about what a work like that might be, I asked Col. Colburn about whether it could be a dance piece. It turns out that Butler has one of the top dance departments in the country. They were quite open to the idea, and I was thrilled; and about this same time, the border crisis really came to a head. It was then clear to me that the new piece needed to be about the crisis at the southern border concerning the treatment of migrants seeking asylum at the hands of the US government.”
He continues. “I didn’t know Patrick de Bana’s work prior to this collaboration. He was chosen by the Butler dance department and I quickly realized he was an excellent choice! To write the piece, I didn’t take a different approach to this ballet than I would any other concert work. I had concerns about fitting an entire concert band in an orchestra pit, but I was assured that would not be an issue. So, I came up with a very specific narrative that allowed me to construct the form of the work. However I didn’t share that narrative with Patrick. I wanted him to be free to be inspired by the music as it occurred to him. [As a European,] Patrick became familiar with the border crisis on his own. He met and worked with the dance students, listened to an early read-through of the score by the concert band, and took his inspiration from there. Stylistically, the piece is deliberately diverse, drawing on both classical and contemporary forms and harmonies. I always want my works to be challenging yet performable, and I think Falling Sky succeeds at that.”
Choreographer de Bana adds, “Speaking about a theme such as SOCIAL INJUSTICE in Falling Sky — [in] about 20 minutes — is a very challenging task. Speaking about something so gigantic and that [comes] such a long way through history is a very challenging task. So I decided to give my own little grain of sand to this sad, many times shameful, and merciless beach in the ocean of the universe named life…My way of honoring all the victims that have been wounded by this injustice is giving motion to their emotions. We all need to understand that nothing and nobody is forever… that we are all simply temporary guests on this planet; and we are the ones, that have to find the solution of this global problem…called SOCIAL INJUSTICE.”